Movie Review – Angel of Mine

An interesting concept that gets bogged down by a lack of story progression.

 ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Angel of Mine is a fascinating character study of a woman who cannot overcome the death of her child. Director Kim Farrant sets up the film beautifully, showing Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) as a woman suffering through a divorce and struggling to make ends meet in a job she doesn’t enjoy. At a children’s birthday party, Lizzie spots Lola (Annika Whiteley), the sister of her son’s friend, and becomes convinced she is her daughter that she believed died in a fire. Lizzie befriends Lola’s mother (Yvonne Strahovski) and gradually begins to lose her grip on reality.

As soon as Lola is introduced, we start to see a shift in Lizzie. Rapace begins to outwardly express the grief Lizzie has bottled up inside, hinting that she may not be in the best emotional or mental state. She portrays her as a woman unhinged and deeply scarred from events that were outside of her control. While her actions are completely irrational, you can’t help but empathise with her. As Lizzie stalks Lola, Farrant carefully builds spine-tingling tension that lasts right up until the final moments.

Rapace’s performance is nicely contrasted by Strahovski as Lola’s mother Claire. Where Lizzie is quiet, Claire is loud and abrasive. When Lizzie is sneaky and passive, Claire is violent and angry. As Lizzie gets closer to her daughter, Claire becomes more and more paranoid and protective. The juxtaposition leads others to doubt whether Lizzie is actually insane and whether Claire’s accusations against her have any truth to them.

Angel of Mine may be led by two phenomenal performances from Rapace and Strahovski respectively, but it’s ultimately let down by its story. Farrant brilliantly sets the tone for the film, but the stakes don’t quite get high enough for the final reveal to pay off properly. There is a complete lack of momentum in the middle as the film becomes weighed down by its own character study. The final act is then rushed through, reaching a conclusion that is too quick and too perfect for the film to end on a memorable note.

Angel of Mine is available in Australian cinemas from 5 September 2019

Image courtesy of R&R Films

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Movie Review – It Chapter Two

Pennywise is back – and he ain’t clownin’ around. It Chapter Two is bigger, scarier and funnier than the first.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Clocking in at a staggering 1138 pages, Stephen King’s gargantuan 1986 novel It was always going to be tough for any filmmaker to successfully adapt. Not to mention it’s chock full of weird shit – from teen orgies to magical god turtles (seriously, look it up).

However, Argentine director Andy Muschietti has done exactly that, with It Chapter Two bringing this horror duology to a stirring, spooky and seriously strange end. Much like King’s novel, this second film is long, unwieldy and sometimes a slog – but what it lacks in structure it more than makes up for in thrills and spills.

It Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the events of the first film. The Losers Club have gone their separate ways, with all but one (Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike) leaving Derry and any memory of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) behind in the process. But when children start to disappear from Derry’s streets once again, Mike holds each member of the club to their vow of returning home to put an end to the evil clown once and for all.

James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader star as older versions of Bill, Beverley and Richie respectively. The whole cast wonderfully captures the unique ticks and quirks of their younger selves, but none more so than James Ransone’s hopeless hypochondriac Eddie.

The film’s overarching theme is one of repressed trauma and facing long-forgotten fears – struggling screenwriter Bill can’t find closure; Beverley has bounced from an abusive father to an abusive husband; and Richie is using stand-up comedy to hide a secret. The film takes its time to set the table and flesh out its ensemble, before splitting them up so they can each revisit and do battle with their nightmarish past. The character-driven narrative depends on its actors to lean in and bear the emotional burden, which they absolutely do – particularly Chastain and Hader.

Of course, It Chapter Two wouldn’t work without someone preying on these personal demons, and Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise is once again phenomenal. A seamless blend of performance and visual effects, Skarsgard gleefully goes all in on Pennywise’s head-spinning insanity.

In the first film, Pennywise preyed on childhood fears; now, he has years of repressed trauma and disenchantment to exploit. The result is something angrier, more primal and upsetting than before.

It Chapter Two is terrifyingly entertaining as well as just plain terrifying. Given the choice to ‘go hard or go home’, Muschietti has definitely opted for the former. At nearly three hours, this isn’t some 90-minute penny dreadful – it’s a sprawling cosmic journey that strikes a great balance between spookiness and King’s trademark strangeness. On occasion it struggles to stay afloat under the weight of its own ambition, but by and large this is a triumphant finale that sticks the landing.

It Chapter Two is available in Australian cinemas from 5 September 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Midsommar

Whatever you do, never drink the Kool-Aid. Here’s our review of Ari Aster’s shockingly gruesome sophomore feature, Midsommar.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

 A troubled twenty-something recovering from a devastating tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) chooses to tag along on a trip her apathetic boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is taking to Sweden with three of his mates – Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).

The trip sees the quintet visit Pelle’s humble hometown, which is essentially a rural community populated by dozens of peculiar Scandinavian hippies. Decked out in white robes, floral crowns and perfectly trimmed facial hair, the commune sits in what appears to be an idyllic haven. Dani and Christian’s already fractured relationship is put to the test when a series of ceremonies culminates in the scariest thing to come out of Sweden since Saturday mornings at Ikea.

Writer/director Ari Aster’s debut feature Hereditary was something of a dark horse last year. Spurred on by a powerhouse performance from Toni Collette, it was a suffocatingly dark piece of counterprogramming to your regular studio horror film. Midsommar shares a lot of the same DNA, with Aster’s passion for pagan ritual and myth even more evident here, and reoccurring themes around family, loss and depression making for an intriguing double feature.

However, the rustic aesthetic of Midsommar’s sunny Swedish glade couldn’t be further from the oppressive gloom of Hereditary. There are no dark corners where evil can lurk in Midsommar; everything is bathed in warm sunshine, illuminating every drop of blood and chunk of gore in piercing light. There is quite literally nowhere to hide, which makes the beauty and horror that lies within all the more arresting and confronting. This isn’t for the squeamish, that’s for sure.

From a technical perspective, Midsommar is a triumph; Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography gives the sunny setting an eerily welcoming glow, while frantic lutes from composer The Haxan Cloak float in and out, putting your nerves on edge. Aster amplifies the sensation of uncertainty by smearing the edges of the frame with a trippy heat haze effect. It could be the magic mushrooms, or it could be the unrelenting sunlight. After several days without sleep, who knows where, what or who we’re seeing anymore?

If you can stomach the punishing violence and the perplexing pagan rituals, Midsommar reveals itself to be a compelling and layered examination of pain, grief, doubt and fear. Personifying all four at once is Pugh, who runs the gamut of emotions – from frailty and fright to fiery anger. Reynor’s performance is more quietly impressive, while Poulter adds some levity as the loud American who speaks before he thinks. In fact, Midsommar offers plenty of laughs – although most of them will be out of discomfort or disbelief at what’s unfolding.

A more impactful and efficient film to Hereditary in almost every regard, Midsommar sees Aster continuing to hone his craft, creating some indelible imagery and spinning a yarn of stomach-churning horror in the process.

Midsommar is available in Australian cinemas from August 8 2019

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Child’s Play

Wanna play? Killer doll Chucky meets Black Mirror technophobia in this gooey Child’s Play reboot full of murder and mirth.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

First seen on the silver screen back in 1988, Chucky has developed something of a cult following over time. A string of schlocky DTV sequels (with titles like Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky) twisted the original premise into something even stranger and sillier than it was to begin with, which explains why Warner Brothers was keen on taking it back to basics in this remake.

As someone who never cared for the originals, I can’t say I’m disappointed – and based on the gleeful silliness and wall-to-wall goriness of this film, I don’t imagine diehard fans will be either.

Director Lars Klevberg’s rebooted Child’s Play reimagines voodoo-cursed Cabbage Patch doll Chucky (this time voiced by Mark Hamill) as a malfunctioning app-enabled smart toy that can sync to all your gadgets around the home and wreak havoc via Wi-Fi. It’s an interesting refresh that makes a lot of sense nowadays. After all, what do we fear more than intelligent and adaptive technology gone awry?

The film opens in a similar fashion to the 1988 original. Karen Barclay (Aubery Plaza) is a single mum looking to start afresh with her lonely but well-behaved son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Short on cash, Karen is able to score a second-hand Buddi doll for Andy’s birthday, which the preteen initially greets with trepidation, before the must-have gadget becomes a source of companionship.

However, it isn’t long before Andy’s Buddi doll – now named Chucky – starts to malfunction. A missing cat here, a creepy bedtime song there and Andy starts to suspect that something about Chucky ain’t quite right.

While Child’s Play is somewhat lacking in terms of its characters – the relationship between Karen and Andy isn’t as compelling as it could have been – this playful rework does enough to distance itself from what came before while retaining the core DNA.

Hamill delights in voicing the devilish doll, bringing the same madcap energy and gleeful evilness to the role as he did the Joker. The design is a little unnerving at first, but the twisted expressions only underline how deeply creepy this walking, talking, killing doll really is.

Coming in at a tidy 90 minutes and with a standout supporting performance from Bryan Tyree Henry, Child’s Play should scratch that itch for fans of the slasher genre. Packed full of gore and dark, dark humour, this film is a neat reintroduction to Chucky that doesn’t do away with what made the character such a cult horror icon in the first place.

Child’s Play is available in Australian cinemas from June 20 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary is back from the dead, and it’s a welcome if flawed resurrection.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo Lavoie) are enthusiastic about their move from Boston to a new home in the country, until their neighbour Jud (John Lithgow) alerts them of a graveyard for the local’s pets within their own backyard. When the family cat is tragically killed by a passing truck, Jud reveals to Louis that the cemetery holds mysterious powers and can be used to bring animals back by burying them at a certain place deep within. But something evil has taken over the cat in its resurrection, and Louis soon learns that the cemetery can bring more than just pets back to life.

In the midst of a resurgence of Stephen King adaptations and remakes, there’s been great (It, Gerald’s Game) and not-so great (Cell, The Dark Tower). Directing team Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s (Starry Eyes, Holidays) slick revamp of Pet Sematary falls somewhere in the middle of that scale – leaning to the more positive side for sure, but still at times a victim to the inherent silliness of its premise.

The good news is that Kölsch and Widmyer keep the suspense dial turned to high throughout a good chunk of the runtime, which works largely to Sematary’s benefit. A few cheap jump scares early on are thankfully traded for long periods of breath-holding, often climaxing in effective and sparingly-used bursts of gore. The acting is great, with Jason Clarke’s loving father and John Lithgow’s weird but well-intentioned old neighbour sharing a good bond. The standout, however, is young Jeté Laurence as the Creed daughter, who successfully carries and transitions her character as she’s forced to play it darker in the film’s second half.

The dark look of the film helps keep the sinister tone intact, even if the charm the original held with its cheesy 80’s practical effects is sacrificed. The actors playing it straight helps this too for the most part, but eventually the ridiculousness of certain scenes come at odds with their seriousness and things begin to unravel. As increasingly silly events ramp up in the third act, it’s hard not to laugh at how nonsensical it all is.

Still, it’s a fun ride that delivers in creepiness and continues the case that most of Stephen King’s work should make for viable entertainment for years to come.

Pet Sematary is available in Australian cinemas from April 4 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Movie Review – Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai pulls no punches as it shows the sheer brutality of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Director and co-writer Anthony Maras delivers a truly heart-pounding two hours with Hotel Mumbai. His directorial debut tells the true story of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel, following the hotel staff and guests as they try to survive. People are killed quickly and mercilessly, and just as you think the film has hit a turning point for the better, the characters are blind-sided, slipping back into despair.

Maras creates some truly humane moments that tug at the heartstrings, with characters speaking on the phone to their loved ones, telling them that they are safe just to spare them the truth. He captures the chaos outside the hotel, where emergency crews try and fail to enter the building safely, and juxtaposes this with empty, bullet-ridden hallways where dead bodies lay strewn and danger lurks around every corner.

While Hotel Mumbai boasts a large and talented cast (including Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs and Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey) its Dev Patel and Anupam Kher who completely steal the show as two staff members who decide to stay behind and protect the guests, rather than trying to escape and save themselves. Unlikely bonds are formed between the hotel staff and guests as they work together to survive and even the terrorists are given depth to help explain the motives behind their actions.

Overall, Hotel Mumbai is a master class in tension that puts you on the edge of your seat and doesn’t let you get comfortable for long.

Hotel Mumbai is available in Australian cinemas from March 14 

Images courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – Happy Death Day 2U

Time loop fatigue notwithstanding, Happy Death Day 2U manages once again to be a (mostly) killer outing.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Double down on your expectation of repetition in Happy Death Day 2U, Christopher Landon’s very speedily turned-around sequel to his silly but surprisingly enjoyable 2017 horror hit. Predictably, there’s much of the same in this direct follow-up to the Groundhog Day-like slasher, though this time around it feels more like a remix, with added sci-fi elements that steer this more in the direction of Back to the Future Part II.

After uncovering her murderer and escaping the time loop, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) believes she can now live peacefully with her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard). That is until Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) finds himself trapped in a similar time loop and reveals to Tree that these events are a result of an experimental quantum reactor he has created for a science project. In an attempt to undo the déjà vu, the trio activate the reactor again – only to send Tree back to relive an alternate version of her birthday once again, this time with a different killer on the loose.

It’s admittedly a little tedious when we’re forced to relive some of the same bits yet again, but thankfully Landon isn’t afraid to get a bit weird and subvert the odd expectation or two.

First, is the slide in genre – mostly unheard of in a Blumhouse production. HDD2U is barely concerned with being a horror movie, retaining only a few small slasher segments. Instead, it amps the comedy into overdrive, which is a little hit and miss, but mostly amusing. It pushes itself a little too far toward slapstick, but thankfully it doesn’t run out of steam and keeps the nonsense fast-paced and entertaining.

Once again, it all works thanks to the charismatic and rubber-faced hottie Jessica Rothe, who embraces the lunacy of scream queendom and twisted humor brazenly. She gets the chance to flex some surprising levels of emotion too, thanks to a plot thread resurrecting Tree’s mother in this parallel universe. While the situation is a little difficult to get invested in amidst something so silly, Rothe at least proves herself a capable actress.

It’s a shame Landon didn’t go all out with the weirdness and complexities that time travel and parallel universes can bring to a story, but as it is HDD2U scrapes by as a fun little ride. It’s becoming apparent that the ‘day repeating itself’ formula is on its last legs though, so let’s hope the planned third instalment manages to reinvent itself.

Happy Death Day 2U is available in Australian cinemas from 14 February 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – The Girl In The Spider’s Web

Director of The Girl In the Spider’s Web Fede Alvarez doesn’t seem to understand the material he’s been tasked with adapting. His film diminishes a great female antihero into a set of familiar female tropes that should get women everywhere burning bras in protest.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Based on the fourth book in the Millennium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web follows hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) after she is approached by computer scientist Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant). Balder needs her to help him get back access to a dangerous program that could result in an all-out war if it falls into the wrong hands. After Lisbeth gains control of the program for Balder, her house is ransacked by a criminal organisation known as the Spider Society and the program is stolen. Lisbeth must now track down the Spider Society and get the program back before they use it to cause chaos.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes seven years after David Fincher’s American adaption of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Too much time has passed for this new film to follow on from the first, but the gap isn’t long enough to be attracting a new audience, so the film sits in this awkward middle zone. It’s basically the film fans of the series never asked for.

Beyond the bizarre timing of the film’s release, director Fede Alvarez fails to understand the essence of the series and therefore the film lacks any of the grit of Fincher’s film, or even the Swedish trilogy of adaptations by Niels Arden Oplev and Daniel Alfredson. Alvarez comes from a strong horror background, with credits in films like Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead and the TV series From Dusk Till Dawn. At the very least you’d expect some cheap scare shots just to give the film a bit of life, but the film is ultimately bland and uneventful.

Claire Foy takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander, and while she starts off strong, she quickly reduces the complex character to an easily distracted, emotional wreck. Her look is also a little too tame and she isn’t as young and boyish as Lisbeth is meant to be. Both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, who played Lisbeth in the Swedish trilogy and Fincher’s version respectively, managed to nail the look and characterisation of Lisbeth. They also each had their own interpretation of the character, meaning the odds were stacked against Foy from the beginning.

Equally, Sverrir Gudnason, who plays another iconic character from the Millennium series, is a complete non-event. As journalist Mikael Blomkvist, he adds nothing to the story and isn’t old enough to capture the uncomfortable nature of Lisbeth and Mikael’s relationship. He’s patched into the story and then becomes dead weight when he’s captured by the bad guys and rendered useless.

The best part of this film is the underutilised Sylvia Hoeks who plays Camilla Salander, Lisbeth’s estranged sister, but even her dark portrayal of a woman who’s been abused her whole life doesn’t do enough to save this film.

What had the potential to break Foy out from the shackles of The Crown is let down by a weak script and complete misdirection of the characterisation of Lisbeth. An embarrassment to the Millennium series, I’d give this film a hard miss.

The Girl In The Spider’s Web is available in Australian cinemas from November 8

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Halloween (2018)

David Gordon Green’s powerful sequel to the beloved Halloween shakes things up and effectively erases decades of tainted mythology.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There have been so many Halloween movies as to lose count. Sequels upon sequels. Spin-offs upon remakes. I have not seen them all, thank god, so I was relieved to discover this new Halloween movie doesn’t require me to. It’s a direct follow-up to the great 1978 original, which means we can forget about all the nonsense that has polluted the past 40 years. Rightfully so – this sequel is a whole lot of fun, right down to the scene of a little boy clipping his toenails.

Of course it’s not fun in any conventional sense. This is a movie where a gas station attendant gets his jaw smashed on a counter and a housewife is battered with a hammer. But the key to these Halloween movies is the way their characters draw attention away from the violence. Most slasher pictures glorify the bloodshed. They’re not so much about who is getting killed as about how much brain is being splattered. Halloween goes to great lengths to make its heroes and villains interesting, so that on some basic level, they are worth caring about.

I, for one, care a great deal for the killer Michael Myers (played in unison by Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney and Tony Moran) and the frantic heroine Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis). Myers is a monolithic creature of murder, yes, but why? He kills in cold blood, but one gets the feeling there’s a labyrinth of dread and intelligence beneath that pale mask. Perhaps the mystery of his mind is why he’s always accompanied by a psychiatrist who wrongly believes he is exempt from Michael’s blade.

Curtis, who originated the role in 1978 and returned in many of the forgettable sequels, is now a weathered grandma determined to see her tormentor perish. Her daughter and granddaughter are estranged, broken by years of paranoid delusions that Myers will return to finish them off. Her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), the poor girl, spent her childhood rigging booby traps and abusing mannequins as target practice. It’s a wonder she didn’t grow up to become G.I. Jane.

Naturally, Michael escapes, on Halloween night no less, and at first I thought it was all going to happen again. Michael kills. Laurie and the cops try in vain to stop him. Michael flees. Roll the credits. But then the movie shifts by turning the plot from violence to intimacy. It becomes a showdown. A showdown between two well-acquainted predators. It’s very intense and very well-made, utterly thrilling, clever, at times funny, and totally worthy of John Carpenter’s great masterpiece. Seldom is a sequel this fulfilling.

Halloween is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 

Image © Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Apostle

The director of The Raid returns with Apostle, but it doesn’t quite hit the stylish heights he’s capable of.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

1905. Former missionary Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) receives word that his sister has been kidnapped by a secretive cult demanding ransom for her return. Under the guise of a believer in their Prophet Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen), Thomas travels to the remote Welsh island upon which they dwell to rescue her. He enters the island prepared to fight but is not prepared for the great evil that both the people of the cult and the greater power they worship are capable of.

Netflix are certainly guilty of grabbing anything they can get their greedy paws on for their massively popular streaming service. This has resulted in some pretty sub-par originals, but every once in a while, there’s a name attached to their offerings that’s worth getting excited over. It happened with Alex Garland for Annihilation (which certainly delivered), and now Gareth Evans for Apostle.

Evans is the mastermind behind the excellent martial arts The Raid movies and the best segment of the V/H/S anthologies Safe Haven. It’s a little disappointing that his long-awaited follow-up Apostle can’t be experienced in theatres. Having said that, while Apostle is certainly good, it doesn’t quite live up to the high bar Evans has set for himself, so perhaps it’s forgivable that we can only access it from home.

Closest in tone to Safe Haven, which similarly explored a malevolent cult, Apostle also bears a lot of similarities to just about every cult-horror movie ever made, from the classics like The Wicker Man and The Children of the Corn to this gen’s Kill List and The Sacrament. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The ingredients may feel familiar, but Evans uses them to create his own recipe, one that matches his own style of building characters through ramping the events around them up to the blood pressure-bursting extreme.

Dan Stevens proves he’s well on the way to becoming a household name by carrying these distressing events on his charismatic shoulders. He dives headfirst into very unpleasant situations as the slow-burning tension gives way to a satisfying explosion of ultra-gore.

There’s a heap of ideas here that don’t land or end up unexplained and abandoned. At the very least, Apostle is huge on entertainment value and still bears the mark of a talented director. It’s a little upsetting to hear Evans’ planned Raid threequel was deserted in favour of this passion project, but for some hardcore thrills at home late on a Friday night, he’s got you covered.

Apostle is available on Netflix from October 12 

Image courtesy of Netflix Inc